The good guys will have another opportunity to denounce the bad guys on Monday at a 5:30 p.m. public hearing of the ordinance committee of the Providence City Council.
I refer, naturally, to the proposed 600-foot Hope Point Tower by The Fane Organization. Its height would approach six times that allowed by zoning regulations, so obviously it is out of scale, and that’s without considering its style, which departs bigly from the city’s historic character. This may not be a problem for some people, only for those who understand what is good for Providence and what is bad for Providence.
After a public hearing, the Ordinance Committee recommended in July against lifting the current height limit on what is built on Parcel 42. On Sept. 6, the council, which was expected to vote on the ceiling one way or the other, instead sent the proposal back to the same committee for another hearing because – it was explained – Jason Fane was not able to testify on behalf of his own project. Yeah, right. And could not afford to send one of his employees, or hire a consultant to make the presentation? Give us a break!
Well, what has happened has happened. Why it happened may help predict what will happen in the future. If the council voted to send the proposal back to ordinance so its members would not have to vote on it one way or the other a week before September’s primary election, the fix is probably in and whatever is said at Monday’s hearing won’t matter. But we don’t know that to be the case. It may genuinely be up in the air.
So, going into the hearing, most people opposed to the proposed design and its height should feel confident that a recommendation against lifting the height limit is in the best interests of the city. Those who are squeamish about being seen as “opposing development” should rest easy, as should those worried that others might think they are “against” creating jobs and raising tax revenue for the city. How silly.
Squeamishness might have been reasonable two years ago, when there were no cranes on the Providence skyline. But now there are plenty. If the Fane tower is blocked, other developers will still want to build in Providence. And if they have better designs, more jobs and more tax revenue can be expected, because a lovelier Providence will generate more of both than an uglier Providence. A building that strengthen’s the city’s brand is better than one that contradicts the city’s brand. Anyhow, if the Fane tower is built, it might dry up the market for upscale tenants, and might also make the Route 195 corridor less attractive to developers whose buildings and tenants would be blocked by the Fane tower.
So feel easy speaking out against Fane on Monday. And lawmakers should feel easy urging the council to vote against raising the height limit – which would undermine the very idea of zoning. When even a major change in what the voters decided on a few years ago can be easily rammed through by a developer, zoning as a functional tool of urban planning ceases to exist.
The hearing at City Hall is expected to begin at 5:30. Providence is not against development, it is for better development.